Digital Markets Act (DMA)

- Reading time: 10 minutes -

Thoughts

Preface

On a federal as well as on a European level there are efforts to force especially the large messenger providers to a certain openness (not interoperability). At the EU level, this is the so-called “Digital Markets Act (DMA)” (external). Here, too, those in charge like to listen to lobbyists and, as a consequence, they like to refer to specialists, technical experts or special committees - presumably just to avoid having to take responsibility themselves …

Standards are elementary, accepted and indisputably necessary in all areas (technology, production, education, communication, IT, agriculture, food, logistics, transport, …) - but in messenger communication, of all things, many think that international standards can be dispensed with.

Who has successfully lobbied here again?!

Because as it currently looks, the EU does not want to use or promote any (existing) standard to improve interoperability, but only to oblige individual major providers to provide only so-called “APIs”. An API is the possibility to exchange certain data in a provider-specific way. Unfortunately, this is not a common standard! As a result, there will be a separate “small interface” for each large company targeted by the DMA, and the many other providers will have to customize their programs/apps for the “large” ones.

Content

“The DMA covers in its scope only the large companies that have 7.5 / 75 billion annual revenue / market capitalization as well as an additional 45 million monthly end users as well as 10,000 annual business users in the EU. Interoperability interfaces only have to be provided by the companies in scope, but not used by all other messengers (so there is no obligation per se for messengers to use this interoperability opportunity).”

In any case, the Digital Markets Act is only tailored to specific corporations and that doesn’t really advance the basic interoperability. Probably why the DMA is seen by some as a paper tiger.

However, “general interoperability” based on standards goes far beyond the ‘Digital Markets Act’ (but could be achieved relatively easily through own initiative).

Technical details

In connection with the DMA, people always get very deep into technical details, insist on a common encryption, make it a condition or even consider it a threat (for encryption, there are corresponding considerations with “MLS”). As with other forms of communication, independent message exchange should be standardized first, followed by optional encryption for the user as required. Also, bridges in general and from any system are indeed a partial step towards interoperability but not the solution.

The very technical draft law is therefore also not a solution for interoperability in messengers but only the compulsion for individual opening for large corporations.

Translation

Unfortunately, there is not yet a publicly viewable German translation of the draft (external).

The [german] translation is expected to be available for the plenary vote shortly before or after the summer break (i.e. either July or September [2022]).

And the current draft itself is not publicly available either (if it is, please let me know >> contact <<). However, it was once rumored of about 400 pages, which is why a concrete source for confirmation/correction would be very interesting.

Already the proposal for the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on competitive and fair markets in the digital sector (Digital Markets Act) of 15.12.2020 was already 89 pages (external) long - just as the proposal of 01.06.2021 on amendments to the draft law with 90 pages (external) …

At technically extensive descriptions to the legal obligation to Interoperability opening by means of DMA it does not lack thus. Nevertheless, there is talk of “no overregulation”.

In addition, texts that are not in one’s native language are much more difficult to understand, one has to rely on some non-binding translated summaries and misunderstandings are preprogrammed.

Viewpoint

One can view interoperability from the position of closed messengers or - and this is worth considering - from a societal position and the view of the different forms of communication, of which “chat” is merely one.

Because there should be no difference when it comes to provider-independent communication. Whether telephone, e-mail, letter post, fax, mobile communications or even “chat” - for all of them, true interoperability is only possible on the basis of international standards! The only actual system difference between, for example, “e-mail” and “chat” is the possible status transmission (e.g. online, typing).

In any case, this would then be associated with a correspondingly high bureaucratic effort and an actually unnecessary overregulation. The member of the Bundestag and EU parliamentarian Andreas Schwab (external) assumes however from the opposite:

… Above all, the law avoids any form of overregulation for small businesses. …

Which leads to the following questions:

Questions

If only a few large corporations have to open individual interfaces, while countless small providers continue to use their self-contained systems that are sealed off from the outside world, and politicians don’t set an example in the use of standards, will citizens have to use umpteen different closed messengers as a result? Can one then only take the detour “via the big players”? Which messenger providers would that be, specifically, in addition to Meta/Facebook?

There are already many separate Messenger islands for:

  • profession/employer,
  • as a member of a BOS (fire department, police, rescue service, …),
  • as a parent for school (if necessary several),
  • for banking transactions,
  • for the German Armed Forces,
  • as a church member,
  • for correspondence with a lawyer,
  • as a patient,
  • for the tax office,
  • for the city hall
  • and then privately …

Wouldn’t it therefore make sense to use a common communication channel in different ways?

In other words, in exactly the same way as all other forms of communication such as telephone, e-mail, browser, fax or even letter post are used as a matter of course - sometimes with and sometimes without identification of the other party? Registered letters are sent, there is the possibility for PGP-encrypted e-mails, encrypted PDF files, Post-Ident, mutual verification via QR code, secret numbers, key files, …

So also “chat” (the standardized communication channel) can be used for many purposes and messages without privacy or security suffering. Also with this communication form one can use unencrypted, encrypted (device- or also user-related) as well as in different ways authenticated or identified writing - or chat also organization-internally for special purposes e.g. as Teammessenger.

In addition to the targeted large corporations such as Meta & Co, there are also still many unaffected providers such as Threema, Signal, Wire - but also smaller server operators, which are operated for example by companies, educational institutions, associations or also private individuals themselves.

Does the DMA aim to, or at least encourage, users of not affected providers to be able to communicate directly with each other?

What competitive advantages/disadvantages are seen for providers not affected by the DMA?

Is chatting via e-mail affected by the envisaged EU regulations?

  • If yes: why? Because with email, international standards are largely adhered to and there is already interoperability as a result … ?
  • If no: Why not? What are the technical differences between email (IMAP) and chat (XMPP) other than statuses like “online” or “typing”?!

Different opinions

There are very different opinions and thoughts on the subject of the Interoperability Commitment / Digital Markets Act (DMA):

Conclusion

From society’s point of view, the problem seems to be less the “opening up to other messengers” and more the lack of willingness to use existing standards.

A politically imposed (legal) obligation to open up would not even be necessary if politicians were clever. Instead, the goal should rather be a voluntary commitment on the part of politics/administration to use international standards.

Because the core question remains:
What distinguishes “chat” technically or legally from other electronic forms of communication (apart from the additional feature of “possible status transfer”)?!

So one can only appeal to all responsible politicians to live up to their public role model function here and to offer provider-independent chat on the basis of XMPP beyond the DMA, at least as a contact option. The solution is on the table - you just have to take hold of it and become active yourself.


Supplementary information:

Date: 24.04.2022
Rights: CC BY-SA
Autors: Diverse (Initiative Freie Messenger)


All articles/thoughts about Messenger: